Creative Cycling of News Professionals

Astrid Gynnild, Ph.D.


The theory of creative cycling emerged from my PhD study of
news professionals in Norway. The study was carried out
according to classic grounded theory principles (Glaser and
Strauss 1967, Glaser 1978, 1998, 2001, 2005), and the area of
interest was the performance of news journalism in the
multimedia age. The theory runs counter to widespread
tendencies of industrial age thinking in news media. It
emphasizes news professionals’ search for meaning in their daily
work, and suggests that their main concern is self-fulfillment
through original contribution. The dilemma and resolution,
creative cycling, is a basic social process continuously going
within inner and outer framings. It consists of three interrelated
dimensions: productive processing, breaks and shifts and
inspirational looping.

Key words: multimedia, news journalism, productive
processing, inspirational looping, knowledge workers, selfmonitoring.


News reporters worldwide are facing the most extensive
changes in media history. Digitalization and global networks
have provided new options for instant news dissemination, and
many news reporters are seeking to establish new work practices
and exploring means of orientation and adjustment across
publishing platforms. Multitasking, instant publishing and staff
reductions require skill crossovers and new work approaches.

Being a news reporter and a manager for many years
myself, I was quite curious about news journalists as shapers of
new knowledge in the multimedia age. In my own career, I
frequently experienced that many aspects of daily news
production are taken for granted and as such, they tend not to be
identified or conceptualized. News production is still an underresearched

By studying news reporters I also hoped to get in touch with
tendencies in the job market that might apply to other groups of
knowledge workers. To the extent that media organizations can
be considered showcases for upcoming business trends, the
tendency is clear: Competition in the job market is increasing;
individuals tend to be more concerned about losing their jobs,
more and more news reporters earn their living as freelancers,
and the socio-economic motivation to be a skilful and attractive
journalist is stronger than ever due to greater investment and
stiff competition between news media.

The theory of creative cycling was generated from a
grounded theory all-is-data-approach: oral, written, and
observational data from a wide array of sources; visits to more
than a dozen Norwegian newsrooms including multimedia
corporations, newspapers, online newspapers, radio and TV;
about 20 qualitative interviews with news reporters; many
informal talks with news journalists, face to face and by phone,
and data gathered from books, chronicles, magazines, news
stories and the web.

When referring to individuals I have, for practical reasons,
consistently called them “he”. Gender did not appear to be of
significant importance to the theory so “he” is simply used as a
unisex term. Moreover, the reader will find that the terms news
professional, news reporter and journalist are used
synonymously. The terms include writers, photographers,
managers, graphic artists, producers, designers, copy editors and
editors, in practice all professionals involved in daily news

The Theory of Creative Cycling

The main concern of news reporters is self-fulfilment
through original contribution. Their aspiration is the
development and realization of talents and capabilities through
professional journalistic work. The main concern is resolved
through creative cycling, which is a cyclic social process
simultaneously going on at psychological and structural levels.
Creative cycling is the opportunity and basic need for moving in
and out, back and forth within and between inner and outer
framings in such a way that individual creativity and innovation
is invigorated. Creative cycling refers to a continuously ongoing
multiplicity of parallel processes at micro and macro levels in
news reporters’ lives, and is vital to personal, professional, and
organizational development, learning and growth.

Creative cycling demonstrates the fundamental necessity of
being in mental and physical motion in highly individuated ways.
As will be further elaborated in the following, it represents both a
dilemma and a solution to news reporters’ needs for selffulfilment
through original contribution. In its essence, creative
cycling is about ideas, how journalists as knowledge workers
come up with ideas and develop ideas, and how ideas are
handled, nurtured and eventually materialized within the frames
of news dissemination.

Creative cycling consists of three dimensions which are
closely intertwined with each other and with the core. The first
dimension is productive processing, a sequence of stages similar
to creative processes previously identified in creativity research.
Productive processing concerns the basic transition from ideas to
published products and is acknowledged as fundamental to any
kind of knowledge work. 1 The stages in productive processing are
preparing, concentrating, incubating, eureka, elaborating and
presenting. It should be emphasized that typically, many
productive idea processes go on simultaneously, both short-term
and long-term.

Movement from one stage of productive processing to the
next is pushed forward by breaks and shifts, which is the second
dimension of creative cycling. There are basically three types of
breaks and shifts that regulate pacing and motion of productive
processing: scheduled breaks, external interruptions and mental
time-outs. The break-and-shift dimension is in reality a two-step
sub-process, which starts with a break that in turn causes a shift
of attention. In turn, breaks and shifts are both openers and
closers for inspirational looping, which is the third dimension of
creative cycling. Inspirational looping refers to individual
movements and actions intended to stimulate, extend and
improve quality and pacing of the productive processing of ideas.

Metaphorically outlined, productive processing is the engine
in creative cycling, breaks and shifts mark the necessity of
switching between the gears and inspirational looping is the
continuous fuelling of the engine. Whereas the six stages of
productive processing is usually experienced as going from one
step to the next, possibly back and forth between stages,
inspirational looping is multi-cyclic and as such quite
unpredictable. The six aspects of inspirational looping that
consistently apply to news work short term and long term are
concerned with motivation, roles, time and space, collaboration,
feedback and stages in a career. Each loop in itself represents a
sub-process which can be further generated into separate sub-theories.

Framings and Change

The outcome of creative cycling processes is conditioned by
inner and outer framings for work. Outer framings refer to
external limitations within which the daily news work is
supposed to be carried out. Examples of outer framings are type,
size and economy of a publishing platform, its daily formats,
staffing, news criteria, working schedules and timeframes for
publishing. On a day-to-day basis, outer framings are out of the
individual news reporter’s influence and control.

Inner framings concern news professionals’ mastery of work
within varying outer framings. Inner framings are the
individual’s latent repertoire of understandings, beliefs and
potential actions. Which aspects of these variables the news
professional applies in various contexts, and also develops over
time, depends upon skills in professional self-monitoring based on
practical, theoretical and personal competences.

Both inner and outer framings are changeable, and they
have extensive consequences for the quality of news production.
The deliberate use of framing instead of frames implies that the
structuring of work, the structuring of an organization, and at a
micro level, the structuring of the individual self, is a
continuously ongoing process; 2 framings are changeable and

The concept framing focuses on the way that anything is
constructed or put together, shaped or developed right now, for
instance a web newsroom, a complex news organization, or a
news reporter’s motivation for work. Moreover, framing is usually
constituted by several systems of frames that operate
simultaneously. From moment to moment the changes within one
or more of the framings may not be overwhelming. But during a
certain time span alterations may be more apparent, and all
kinds of changes at one level or other will influence surroundings
and their response. Hence framing also means to adapt and
develop for a special purpose; it contains both the possibility to
form and the possibility to be formed. In the process of gathering
facts, editing and publishing news, therefore, sets of both inner
and outer framings are operative.

As Tuchman points out, news may itself be considered a
frame through which a constructed picture of reality is
presented. 3 This frame is constituted by the ways both news
organizations and news reporters structure and define their work
tasks. And “by seeking to disseminate information that people
want, need and should know, news organizations both circulate
and shape knowledge” (Tuchman 1978, p.2).

A news reporter, who considers himself strongly intrinsically
motivated, says “the stricter frames I impose on myself, the more
my journalistic creativity is challenged
”. The statement points to
the fact that when framings are self-imposed, the individual is
able to regulate them according to his own capacities. When new
frames are imposed by others, the individual is less in control of
events and hence more vulnerable to changes.

This two-sided approach to framings takes into account the
fact that news work first and foremost is a set of collaborative
actions between professionals in hierarchically structured
organizations. Some framings emerge as important for enhancing
professional creativity and innovation, whereas other framings
are apparently counterproductive to journalistic creativity.
Taking only outer framings for work into consideration would be
an insufficient short cut since it emerged that a news reporter’s
individual skills in relating to outer framings are just as
important as outer realities per se. This study of news
professionals during a period of intensive change in media
organizations therefore supports the idea that the responsibility
for developing innovative and productive newsrooms is indeed a
joint venture between employers and employees.

In the following, I will first present the six stages of
productive processing. From there, I will discuss the breaking
and shifting dimension and then the properties of inspirational
looping. The three dimensions and the framing conditions which
together form the theory will consequently be discussed in
relation to practical and theoretical implications of creative
cycling theory.

Productive Processing

The following stages of productive processing account for a
basic movement in creative cycling:

At the preparing stage, the news reporter sensitizes himself
to a task or situation which is to be solved. For instance, at a
conscious level, news reporters may prepare by reading
background material, making appointments, notifying and
discussing with other people involved and visualizing possible
outcomes of the assignment. They open up to what is going on
through scanning news updates, investigating facts, doing person
research, being in touch with a broad spectrum of people and
environments, and collaborating with colleagues. Preparation
also typically includes atmosphering; 4 getting oneself and other
people in a good mood for doing a task. Considerable information
gathered at the preparation stage is subconsciously stored and
might later be brought to consciousness when the situation calls
for it. Consequently, all kinds of knowledge and experience may
contribute to the fund of productive processing.

At the concentrating stage, the news reporter and possibly
his co-workers intensively work to find out what is really going on
and how it is going to be handled. In this phase, the news
reporter is action-oriented and extendedly focused on relevant
solutions to be reached rapidly. The more he digs into something
however, the more complicated it tends to be. Shaping news is
intermittently a condition of tension, discomfort, despair and
extensive stress for the individuals involved, compromising and
improvising in order to keep deadlines and other absolute limits
for work. The time and space absoluteness of the news frame
frequently force news reporters into the next stage quite quickly.

The third stage, incubating, could just as well be called the
chaos stage. The individual news reporter, or a collaborative
team, may find himself or themselves in a state of confusion and
bewilderment, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by facts, data, and
other kinds of impressions waiting to be sorted. The more data,
the more chaos one must be able to bear and explore. The
incubation stage is critical for productive processing to continue.
This period of chaos calls for individual withdrawals that are
often difficult for outsiders to respect and understand. The news
reporter needs to be mentally or physically “alone” in order to
concentrate. It is a phase where apparently nothing interesting
happens. Apparently, he just messes around “not doing proper
work”, waiting for the best idea or approach to become conscious.

Put simply, the reporter needs frequent timeouts from the
tasks he is struggling with. It manifests itself for instance
through bathroom visits, getting a cup of coffee, going outdoors to
have a smoke, a random walk or other more plausible excuses for
keeping the head focused by giving the body a break. In extreme
cases, news reporters may withdraw for instance to their home
office or another protected shelter for months while working on
tasks of some dimension. It frequently turns out that it is the
ability to tolerate and accept one’s own messing around that
prepares and makes ready for the next stage. Incubating usually
involves breaking up one’s mindsets in order to create an
openness that prepares for eureka. Incubating may last from
seconds to years. It is a more or less subconscious phase of testing
out a variety of solutions or alternatives, and it is usually very

The fourth stage, eureka, is the moment of discovery, the
moment when new insight breaks through. Eureka is brought
about by a real encounter with for instance people, places,
situations or new data. 5 For instance, the photographer gets a
glimpse of the ultimate visual scene; the writer gets an incidental
phone call which causes a breakthrough in his investigative
reporting. Eureka, the real encounter, is identified first and
foremost through its effect on the individual news reporter. The
E-moment evokes the yes-I’ve-got-it feeling among people. Eureka
is an ideational breakthrough and as such, a phase of very short
duration. It is associated with high spirits, exhilaration, relief,
glow, and energy and is often spontaneously expressed verbally or
physically. When the E-moment is reached, the rest of the task is
done with more ease, since energy arousal is a physical sign that
one is intuitively heading in the right direction.

Eureka originally stems from Greek, meaning “I have found”
(it). According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the
exclamation was first uttered by Archimedes when he discovered
a method for determining the purity of gold. Finding a good intro
to a story, a surprising headline or an original lead are all eureka
moments in news reporters’ daily work.

The fifth stage, elaborating, identifies work that needs to be
done next for the productive processing to result in a practical,
real world solution to the initial problem or task. The elaborating
stage is hence a period of carefully working out of conceived ideas.
Journalistic elaboration includes detailed, goal-oriented
gathering of facts and information relevant to the superior idea or
problem discovery, and it includes the subsequent sequencing of
data and editing.

At the last stage, presenting, something that began as an
idea among many other ideas is elaborated on and ready for
sharing. The purpose of developing ideas is to give them a form
and a format for presentation. At this point, it becomes clear that
the six stages of productive processing do not necessarily follow a
linear pattern. Instead, individuals might jump back and forth
between the stages and work parallel with many different ideas
or projects.

For instance, there are many levels of presentation. An idea
developed by a news reporter might first be presented to a
colleague, then go through a new round of collaborate incubation,
eureka, and elaboration before it is presented at a staff meeting
or to a manager. Then possibly new rounds of elaborating,
eureka, incubating, eureka, elaborating and presenting, and
finally the news story might be disseminated to the public.
Moreover, as mentioned above, ideas or news that do not arrive at
any presenting, either to be submitted to colleagues or the public
are not necessarily lost or gone. They are just left dormant for the
moment. Although quick dissemination to the public is always
the ultimate goal in news journalism, most news reporters have
many stories on how ideas they got and almost forgot might be
recovered and further processed much later, when suddenly the
right moment comes.

Often, productive processing does not require any conscious
effort or focusing. It just “happens”. At other times, a news
reporter might struggle for months or years with questions to
which he is searching for answers or solutions. He is stuck at one
stage in the process and does not know how to continue to the
next – until suddenly something happens which provokes the
eureka moment. Such occurrences are explained and understood
by the breaks and shifts that keep the creative cycling process
going, and by individual skills in inspirational looping.

During the study of news professionals in the multimedia
age, the six stages of productive processing were generated ahead
of the overall creative cycling concept. It emerged that when
shaping of new knowledge is involved, it presupposes productive
processing going on. News reporters are continuously involved in
many parallel aspects of productive processing, and it typically
goes on without notice. After the stages of productive processing
were identified, however, it became apparent that something was
still missing. What happens before, between and after the stages?
What causes the jump from one stage to another? And how do we
know when an individual, a team or a group has moved from one
phase of productive processing to the next? It emerged that the
various phases of productive processing call for different kinds of
breaks and shifts, and that productive processing is materialized
in a number of ways, according to what aspects of inspirational
looping that are operant.

Breaks and Shifts

The second dimension of creative cycling, breaks and shifts,
contribute to fluency in productive processing, and provide the
individual with options for quick switching between ways of
approaching people, situations and tasks. For productive flow,
moments of breaks and shifts are just as important as that which
is traditionally considered journalistic “work”. Breaks and shifts
are concerned with moments of letting go, and are caused by
combinations of outer and inner framings. To create something
new, one has to let go of something old, May (1975) points out.
The circulation of letting-go moments in news journalism is for
the most part extremely high. In their daily work, news
professionals are continuously exposed to a multitude of
situations that call for speedy sorting and quick decision-making
of ideas and possible actions.

News reporters typically have specific, unspoken rituals to
which they turn in pressed situations. When they are on track of
something important or a time limit is getting close, they may use
a whole set of possible breaking and shifting strategies to
increase awareness of important moments and simultaneously
speed up production. Many such breaking rituals are caused by a
real encounter related to the E-moment.

There are constant flows of selections related to all aspects of
news production going on within strict time frames. The moments
of letting go are concerned with quality assessments of ones own
news work, and are influenced by three aspects of breaks and

Scheduled breaks refer to end points or intermissions that
are planned and known to the people involved beforehand.
Scheduled breaks are caused by formal outer framings such as
deadlines, meetings, working hours and other preset conditions.
External interruptions are also caused by outer circumstances.
External interruptions include for instance unexpected news
events that call for immediate action, phone calls, SMS, e-mails
and other unexpected messages, spontaneous chats or discussions
initiated by others, sudden group get-togethers and other kinds of
sudden happenings that capture a news reporters attention for
shorter or longer periods of time.

The third property of breaks and shifts, mental timeouts,
serves as think-breaks that often spring from mental and
physical restlessness connected to the intensity of productive
processing. Mental timeouts help the news reporter empty his
head when he is stuck in a certain mindset or perspective. Mental
timeouts are achieved for instance by surfing apparently
purposelessly on the web, chatting, paying e-bills, writing emails,
even playing darts or going for a walk. Mental timeouts
also manifest themselves as bathroom visits, lunching, phoning,
coffee supplying, collegial pep talks, and equipment checks.

Mental timeouts that include physical breaks and shifts are
observable to the surroundings, whereas others are carried out
only in the individual’s mind. Many times, physical breaks and
shifts might appear weird and meaningless to others, a waste of
time that does not make sense. Five minutes before deadline, for
instance, when the collaborative atmosphere in a department is
really hot and people’s shoulders are close to their ears, a
reporter suddenly leaves his computer and goes to get a coke
instead of finishing his work task. An unwise desk editor might
think he is totally out of control and that he needs quick-fix
managing. In reality he is in full control, he just needs a short
think break before the final letting-go of the story; the break is
just a part of his creative cycling.

Developing sensitivity for optimal shifting moments is a
constant challenge to most news professionals. One news reporter

The most important thing I learned from an older
colleague, whom I have always admired for his
speed, effectiveness and surprising solutions, is
the courage to let go. If you’re stuck in a work
task, let go! Have a break and let the mind work!
If there is time, he taught me, it’s a good thing to
sleep on it, but one or to swallows of coffee is
better than nothing. This simple rule has got me
out of a range of difficult situations, but it took me
quite a few years before I realized that that’s the
way it is. Breaks are there to get you unstuck.

Sometimes, mental timeouts are simply needed for recovery after
intensive encounters with tough reality. For instance, many news
reporters need breaks after covering severe accidents. Usually
such breaks are of short endurance such as taking the rest of the
day off, or a few hours the next day. Sick leaves, daily leisure
time and holidays also exemplify mental timeouts.

Various newsrooms typically develop their own norms and
unwritten rules for acceptable, informal breaking and pausing.
These habits are part of what “sits in the walls”, as the saying
goes. In general, smoking breaks tend to be less accepted than
formerly. For instance, an online editor exclaimed, “I will never
hire a smoking journalist. We can’t afford people who have to
take breaks every hour in our business”. In quite a few
newsrooms, one can observe tendencies to neglect each others’
needs for breaks and shifts and to misinterpret the processes that
are actually going on. In reality, both personal and leadership
awareness of individual needs for breaks and shifts is crucial in
keeping a healthy newsroom atmosphere, particularly in periods
of intensive change.

In the multimedia age, skills in holding back emerge to be
just as important as the courage to let go. With the introduction
of online newspapers and instant publishing, the pressure of
escalating the letting-go-moments to increase productivity is
delegated to individual levels. The tendency is that the faster the
medium, the harder the time competition and the more shortstaffed
the newsroom, the more short-cuts reporters are willing to
take. News reporters who experience being under constant time
pressure and with little individualized action space, approach
productive processing more routinely than they would otherwise
have done. There is a constant rivalry between letting go caused
by felt extrinsic expectations and holding back to ensure quality
in accordance with own professional values and standards. The
quality dilemma frequently calls for next-best solutions, and
professional judgment is continuously challenged. In a sense, a
news reporters’ professionalism stands and falls with optimal
breaking and shifting sensitivity.

Since needs for breaks and shifts are highly individual, their
content vary a lot from day to day depending on work tasks and
how processes develop. In short, the repertoire of breaks and
shifts depend on both inner and outer framings for work, and are
to a large extent integrated sets of action within the individual; it
might be more or less subconscious, and it frequently goes
without saying. It appears that to stimulate journalistic
innovation and courage to create, breaks and shifts must be selfimposed
to the extent that the news professional feels somehow
in control with the situation. Many reporters suffer from an
interruption overload that makes it difficult to be productive,
whereas others strive with resolving needs for a higher frequency
of mental timeouts.

Breaks and shifts are operative at a micro level, focusing on
day-to-day varieties, and at a macro level, taking more longlasting
processes into consideration. Macro shifts deal with
changes during a career, and include any change of field within
the profession; change of work tasks, change of employment ties,
even change of profession.

Inspirational Looping

In-between moments of breaking and shifting, news
professionals are engaged in patterns of inspirational looping. In
practical work situations, a diversity of inspirational loops
supplies the individual with energy, strength, confidence and
stimulation to continue discovering and producing news items.
The better mastery of practical, theoretical and personal skills,
the more exciting and stimulating the inspirational looping gets.

The first aspect, motivational switching, accounts for
individual decisions on the apportionment of ambitions, talent,
time, and energy. The inherent ability to respond to outer events
with immediate action requires frequent shifts of focus within the
individual, alternating rapidly between issues in the foreground
and issues in the background. Motivation is a driving force in this
internal decision-making process. Motivation is the individual
drive, impulse or intention that causes a person to do something
or act in a particular way. Motivation is closely related to will,
choice and to action. The dilemma, at least from a management
perspective, is that motivational aspects which in a given setting
are likely to be decisive to one reporter might be indifferent to
others. At another time and in another setting, the opposite could
be true. Thus no general formula can be guaranteed to work
when we discuss journalistic motivation, except that motivation
is by nature cyclic and not static. Decisions might be deliberate
and planned, or carried out more or less unconsciously.

News reporters tend to switch between seven motivational
states: curious enquiring, interrogating, risk-taking, socializing,
influencing, competing, visibilizing and storytelling. In each
state, the news professional can be predominantly intrinsically or
extrinsically motivated. For instance, the extrinsic aspects of
competing mean that a news reporter mainly compares his own
achievements with those of others. Journalists compete with each
other to be first, for the most prestigious assignments, the best
cover stories and so forth in order to get as much recognition from
their environment as possible. When intrinsically motivated, by
contrast, the news reporter is mainly challenged by selfcompetition.
He compares his achievements with his own
previous performances and tries to improve and develop as best
he can. Sometimes it is a dilemma that self-competition, as a very
strong motivational drive for the individual, is not apparent to his
environment. In states of intrinsic motivation, news reporters
tend to be more innovative and devoted to quality improvement
than reporters motivated primarily through carrot-and-stick.

Role switching refers to cyclic patterns of behaviour
concerned with movements within and between publishing
arenas, physical arenas, content arenas, administrative arenas,
proficiency arenas and socio-emotional arenas of news work
respectively. Depending on outer framings, journalists either
perform parallel cycling across the various arenas of work or they
focus on in-depth aspects of one arena at the time. Parallel pacing
is characterized by patterns of multitasking where the switching
between a great variety of professional roles is integrated into
short term or day-to-day work. When parallel medium switching
is at the fore, for instance, the news reporter shapes news for
several media on a daily basis; focus is on mastering several
publishing platforms simultaneously. Parallel switching stands in
contrast to serial switching, which in practice means options for
specializing in one field at a time. Serial switching typically
involves concentrating and focusing on one particular aspect of
news making over a longer period of time, and subsequent
periodical moves into other areas. Switching across arenas is
performed by generalist reporters, whereas switching along one
arena strengthen specialist skills.

In most newsrooms, there is a tension between news
reporters’ evolving need for specialization and management’s
need for flexible generalists. Dependant upon direction and time
span, any switching, horizontally and vertically, between the
listed variables is possible. In the multimedia age, the most
challenging alterations relate to the great expansion of
publishing platforms and subsequent managerial expectations of
and requirements of parallel switching between media. Running
successful news websites is a matter of great organizational
prestige, and so far it has been prevailing corporate thinking that
parallel media switching is a more time-saving and efficient use
of human resources than serial media switching. Accordingly, the
conglomerate of possibilities for professional growth and
development implicit in extended options for media switching
stands in paradoxical relief to the general reluctance among
experienced news reporters to grasp new opportunities.

In a newsroom survey of about 30 news reporters, I asked
whether the opportunities for cross-media work made the
corporation more attractive to skilful journalists. Almost
everybody agreed but, as most professionals added, people need to
be interested in cross-media publishing to do it. The emphasis on
personal dedication to cross-media multitasking points to
inspirational looping as a dimension of creative cycling that
cannot be forced on reporters, only stimulated.

The third aspect of inspirational looping, temporal-spatial
switching, concerns patterns for dealing with structurally
imposed time and space limitations in the newsrooms. The two
main outer framings that regulate the collective and personal
pacing of news work are deadline and instant publishing.
Deadlines involve an ordering of temporalities whereby times for
news publishing is prefixed according to specific intervals.
Deadlines are practiced in the traditional media, TV, radio and
newspapers, whereas instant publishing refers to opportunities
for constant news release on new media platforms such as
websites and cell phones. Most news professionals work crossmedia
and therefore relate continuously to both types of

Within these given framings, news professionals constantly
search for creative ways to fulfil inherent needs for tempo shifts
and also, needs for mental and physical switching of space. The
less time disposable from preparing to presenting, the less visible
the breaks and shifts and the more routinized the news
production. The more short-staffed the department and the less
time disposable, the more widespread are time saving strategies
such as minimizing field work, minimizing sources, recycling of
news through cut and paste, and limiting news criteria. In

There is a general progression from operating in real settings
to operating in virtual settings. In the era of 24/7 news, reporters
are expected to be accessible irrespective of the time of the day
and news work can be carried out from anywhere. Logically
enough, it emerged that the harder the production pressure and
the higher the degree of managerial control of time as
experienced by the individual news reporter, the less movement
in physical space.

Online news work in particular challenges skills in selfmonitoring
and sensitivity for balancing through weighing up:
The less temporal-spatial cycling during work time, the greater
the need for long leisure breaks and mental timeouts. In general,
web reporters need longer periods off than their colleagues in
traditional media due to the intensity of web news watch
responsibilities. In order to balance the constant news flow at
work, a web editor reports, he usually engages only in slow-time
activities when off duty. Moreover, he needs considerable private
space and withdrawal from other people. Also, the higher
intensity of work tasks, the greater is the need for contrastive
temporal-spatial switching. Sometimes, news professionals
engage in daydreaming as a means of temporary survival of
monotonous news work and lack of options for temporal-spatial

The fourth aspect of inspirational looping is collaborative
switching, which means going in and out, back and forth between
cooperative situations with others. The more restricted the time
limits, for instance during a newscast, the more dependent
collaborative participants mutually respect and trust each other
to make things work. Collaborative switching points to the degree
of engagement when participating in smaller and larger groups
within or between newsrooms, and can intuitively be measured
by sensing the level of invested energy. Engagement typically
varies between vigorous contributing, practical adjusting, active
resisting, passive resisting and focused retreating. Frequency of
shifts and the dwelling at the various approaches depends on
experienced inner and outer trust and recognition in the

Vigorous contributing is characterized by high energy levels
and third-solution approaches to issues. Efforts are focused on
here-and-now aspects of an issue. To work at its best, vigorous
contributing relies on a fluent switching between the other four
ways of approaching collaborative situations. For instance,
knowing when to withdraw from cooperative situations is just as
important as knowing when to rebel and knowing when it is best
to practically adjust to a situation. In practice, alternating
between the approaches implies that the news reporter acts
within his current circle of influence in order to widen it. By
contrast, news reporters who repeatedly engage only in one or
two approaches, in reality display signs of imbalance and
temporary fixation. Particularly during periods of great
structural change, staffers’ collaborative skills and competencies
are tested. It emerged that the most widespread way of dealing
with expectations of collaborative change, irrespective of
hierarchical role, is practical adjusting. In reality, practical
adjusting is a way of adjusting to changes in outer framings
without investing too much energy.

Feedback switching, which is the fifth aspect of inspirational
looping, is the possible shifting between giving, getting, and
seeking response. Included are frequent alternations between
various providers of feedback. News reporters’ most important
sources of response are editors, co-workers, friends, family, news
sources and the public. The last source of feedback is the news
reporter himself. In reality, self-evaluation is fundamental in all
kinds of work. It is done continuously and clearly affects further

Principally, feedback switching operates in much the same
way as triangulation in research. Getting formal and informal
response from a broad variety of sources provides the news
reporter with multifaceted information. By approaching the same
situation from a number of viewpoints, the bias involved in
considering something from one perspective alone is reduced. It
makes it easier for the reporter to sort, synthesize, discriminate
and apply information from others. It also helps him not to lose
his way when he is under pressure from one group or another,
since different feedbackers will usually contribute different
perspectives on the same issue.

Whereas most news professionals tend to claim that there is
too little evaluation and too little coaching in the newsrooms, that
is, too little formalized feedback, it emerged from the data that
informal feedback is more important than can be imagined. Nonscheduled,
spontaneous, accidental and individually given
responses are frequently a source of creative joy, development,
motivation and pride which is hardly achieved in any other way.
Depending on career stage, the feedback news reporters
appreciate the most is provided by editors, colleagues and the
public respectively. A good way of testing whether a journalist
really wants to learn and produce to the maximum of his
capacity, is simply to observe how he gets the feedback that he
needs to improve. Successful news professionals make use of a
great number of feedbackers and manage to convert any kind of
positive or negative response or slice of information into
professional development and benefit.

The last aspect, career switching, binds together the other
aspects of inspirational looping as they emerge in the long-term
temporal perspective of a career. Careers can be pursued within
specific organizations and as such are typified as organizational
careers (Glaser 1968), or they can be pursued through freelance
work and looser attachment to one or more organizations and as
such can be typified as professional careers (Glaser 1964). Many
news reporters will cycle periodically between the two main types
of organizational affiliation. Moreover, reporters might pursue
parallel or serial careers by combining for instance journalism
and fiction writing, journalism and farming or journalism and

Career switching involves cycling between three distinct
stages; accessing, qualitating and individuating stage. Within
each stage, particular aspects of problem solving are focused. In
the accessing stage, strategies for getting a job and being
accepted by gatekeepers such as managers and editors are the
most important. The entry level journalist concentrates on
demonstrating flexibility through a variety of fitting-in qualities
in order to be socialized and integrated into the newsroom;
primarily, norm adapting through extended flexibility. The most
important aspects are flexibility as for news issues, presentation
formats, publishing platforms, pace of work and wages and length
of contracts. In other words, a willingness to serve managerial
needs in the newsroom is implicit in such entering flexibility, no
task being too small and no task too big. Conforming to the
informal saying-yes-rule is essential if one is to be allowed to stay
long enough in the accessing stage to advance to the next stage. It
means being willing to let go of individual preferences for the
greater good – for a while.

The shift from the accessing to the qualitating stage is
marked by a break and shift that involves a change in outer
framings for the individual. The relationship between employer
and a news reporter is formalized through written contracts in
which wages and fields of work are specified. Such formal
contracting provides the individual with job predictability and
financial security that opens for further development and
exploration of individual competencies relevant to the profession.
The news professional is now predominantly concerned with
quality development.

In this context, the concept qualitation is a synthesis of two
concerns at this stage of careering, namely enhancing quality
through individual qualification actions. Professional quality and
competence concerns how well news work is done, both in relation
to performers’ own expectations and quality standards, and to the
expectations of management and colleagues. This duality is
demanding to cope with, since it touches on the individual’s
fundamental values and hence identity and work ethic.

Whereas the accessing stage requires a high degree of
convergent thinking, adapting to norms and following superior’s
instructions, divergent thinking is of greater value and influence
during the qualitating stage. Contrary to convergent thinking,
which is strongly evaluative, divergent thinking is about ideation.
It is about seeing aspects of a topic in new ways, and the courage
to take risks by taking unconventional actions when you are not
sure about the outcome. It entails the courage to test out several
ideas before consciously choosing the best one, and the courage
and social skills to convince others that the ideas are worth going
for. It is implicit in the qualitation concept that individual
capacities, understandings and skills change and develop over a
period of time.

Moving from the qualitating to the individuating stage is
frequently marked by breaks and shifts that involve a change in
outer framings, too. In contrast to shifts between the accessing
and qualitating stages, however, the shift is now initiated or
controlled by the news professional himself. Consistency between
actions and personal principles is crucial. The shift often entails
breaking away from a position, department or an organization,
followed by an individual restructuring of work tasks and
affiliation. Whether he is attached as a staffer, freelancer or
temporary employee is not in itself important, as long as the
attachment is consistent with the individual’s needs and wishes.
In the individuating stage, the various competencies that
constitute the professional self are synthesized so that there is a
consistency between a news reporter’s action and his basic values.

The breakthrough or eureka that leads to outer change is
often the result of a build-up of frustrations that waits to be
resolved at the incubating stage of productive processing. Such
frustrations are typically concerned with aspects of journalistic
quality and the news professional’s influence on news priorities,
working processes and sorting by competence in newsrooms.

The three stages of career cycling are not static or given at
any point in a person’s working life. Moving from one stage of
career switching to the next provide the individual with new
insights and competence in intrapersonal and interpersonal
collaboration, and resemble stages of dependency, autonomy and
interdependency known from gestalt psychology. When the first
of the two initial stages are passed, individuals may switch back
and forth between the stages according to context. A
conglomerate of learning curves and career directions are

A Theory about the Development of Skills: A Skills
Development Theory

Creative cycling is a process basic to professional
development, learning and growth. It is about staying open to
new experiences and new knowledge and the flexible switching of
mind-sets and actions. The theory suggests a direction for
increasing the efficiency and innovative quality of knowledge
production at the individual and organizational levels. As such,
creative cycling is a theory about self-monitoring and the
development of creational skills in relation to inner and outer
framings. Creational skills entail the ability to synthesize insight,
experiences and knowledge from different fields into new ways of
seeing, understanding and shaping societal issues. In most
media research, such skills have tended to be taken for granted
and have therefore not been questioned. Self-monitoring refers to
self awareness and capabilities of productive performance
through self-regulated learning.

For most news reporters, it is a question of balancing
between “how to fit in and still be yourself” and “how to be
yourself and still fit in”. Inner framings vary according to level of
professional expertise, and the level of professional expertise covaries
with the news reporter’s creational skills, that is, skills in
creative cycling. The deliberate use of the concept skills
emphasizes that news proficiency is a learning-by-doing process
aimed at concrete, practical results, not only at getting competent

The development of creational skills evolves through ways of
innovative exploration (inspirational looping) of the relationship
between mastery and chaos (productive processing), and is
stimulated by frequent switches (breaks and shifts). The more
conducive the framings are to productive processing, the more
virtuously creative cycling processes are performed, and the more
the individual news reporter’s capabilities may be tested out
without risking mental or physical burnout. Let us imagine a
person balancing on a plank. The further out he walks on the one
side, the more urgent the need for balancing on the other side.
However, the more he dares on the one side, the more gain there
might be on the other – if he takes the risk and can bear the

The self-regulated fluency of switches between the practical,
theoretical and personal skills included in all dimensions of
creative cycling decides individual developmental tracks along a
continuum from novicing to expertising (Benner 1984, Dreyfus
and Dreyfus 1986). At any given time, news professionals will be
on their way from one field of learning to another field of
learning, and they will normally be more skilled in some areas of
news shaping than in others. News professionals frequently
switch between roles as novices in one field, conventionalists in
another field and possibly proficient improvisers or intuitive
experts in a third field.

When novicing or conventionalizing, creative cycling
processes are focused on performing basic craftsmanship
according to detailed instructions from field authorities. Novicing
means that certain sets of objective facts and features are
recognized as guidelines for action, but situations are experienced
almost context-free. Conventionalizing, by contrast, entails that
basic skills are integrated to the extent that the news reporter
know what to look for in a variety of situations and is able to see
himself as separate from field authorities. He still chooses safe
and well-established solutions to tasks and situations. When
conventionalizing for prolonged periods of time, repeating the
same approaches easily gets monotonous.

Proficient improvising entails the use intuitive
understanding, constant evaluating and speedy decision-making
in order to come up with exciting, insightful and surprising
solutions. For instance, the proficient improviser might
intuitively realize that he is on track of a breaking news story.
Based on previous experience, he deliberately chooses between
reorganizing schedules without notifying anybody until he knows
more about the issue, or immediately involving managers and
editors to start an investigative process as soon as possible. The
illustration exemplifies that even proficient improvisers have to
think deliberately about what to do. It is the necessity for such
analytical thinking and planning that distinguishes actions of
proficient improvising from expertise level.

At expert level, news professionals efficiently generate
innovative and qualitative good outcomes to any task or situation
within their particular field. The switch from proficient
improvising to expertising lies in the integration of reflection and
action into fluent, intuitive performance. Instead of for instance
conventionalizing, which entails jumping back and forth between
three or four standard solutions to a task, a true expert
intuitively comes up with surprising suggestions and results.
Expert performance is effortless and virtuous and it comes
fluently. If a solution does not work out after all, the expert will
immediately come up with alternative ways of doing it. In the
newsrooms, expertising is of particular importance when it comes
to most kinds of rapid decision-making.

At any given time, an unlimited number of skill level
combinations are found among news professionals.
Organizational requirements of multitasking, frequent
technological changes and hardening competition in the work
market are all aspects that call for extensive and continuous skill
development. Development and learning take place when the
individual cycles between different fields or arenas so that his
radius of possible action is broadened and raised to a higher level
of proficiency. In general, news professionals who demonstrate
high levels of proficiency in one field, jump easily from novicing to
proficient improvising or expertising in other fields.

Practical Implications

In practical work life, awareness of creative cycling processes
might open up for new ways of organizing news work efficiently
and innovatively. It might help individual news reporters and
news organizations to ensure and improve the quality of their
work, and thereby the quality of the news published. What
changes that are needed according to the principles of the theory,
is up to the people involved in each case to find out.

At an individual level, a crucial question is: Who is going to
set the limits when work is potentially limitless? It emerges that
self awareness and self-monitoring constitute a specific challenge
to news professionals in the digital age. The requirements of 24/7
accessibility combined with a loosening up of absolute timeframes
for publishing calls for extended personal skills in individual time
management and self care. News reporters’ dilemmas concerned
with needs for creative cycling will reoccur, in shifting disguises,
until they are resolved. The better the individual knows himself
and his creative cycling needs, the easier it is for him to
administer his time and projects in fruitful collaboration with

At an organizational level, the theory points out that a
crucial challenge lies in loosening up established routines for
executive control of subordinate efficiency, and in switching
mindset from industrial age to knowledge age. The tendency of
measuring news items in quantitative terms tend to stimulate
shortcuts that are conducive to creativity. Instead of talking
about structural synergies, which presuppose that human ideas
are limited in supply and therefore need to be recycled to save
costs, the theory advocates the importance of developing human
synergy effects.

Moreover, the theory indicates that the age myth in the
journalistic profession might block rather than stimulate
innovative actions in the newsrooms. Contrary to manual work,
where productivity is expected to decrease with increasing age,
knowledge work such as journalism is dependent upon
experienced expertising. The more inexperienced the news
reporters and the less time disposable, the more shortcuts and
the greater the risk for fatigue and burnout.

Theoretical Implications

Theoretically, the theory of creative cycling’s contribution to
the field of news production studies can be summarized in issues
concerned with conceptualizing, rehumanizing, synthesizing,
bridging and reframing central aspects of news production. I will
elaborate on these issues one after the other.

First conceptualizing: Whereas most approaches to media
studies have been either quantitative or qualitative, the theory of
creative cycling emerged out of a conceptual approach. As a
grounded theory it contributes with an integrated set of new
concepts to the research field. The new concepts, which are
centered around creative cycling as a latent pattern of human
behaviour, provide a deepened understanding of the in-process
character of journalistic work.

Second synthesizing: The theory of creative cycling emerged
from systematically comparing data from a variety of newsrooms
to written data particularly from the fields of psychology,
learning, organizational theory and media sociology. The
synthesizing approach contributes to widening the field of news
production studies instead of boxing it in.

Third rehumanizing (Holton 2006): There are many dehumanizing
tendencies to be observed in contemporary media
business. One is the corporate adoption and application of
industrial terms such as delivery, production, platforms,
productivity and efficiency. Another is the tendency to
expectations of 24 hour accessibility, a third is staff reductions
combined with expectations of higher levels of productivity and
efficiency from the ones who are left. These are aspects of modern
work life that so far are only scarcely dealt with by news
production researchers. In spite of more than sixty years of media
research, it remains paradoxical that the majority of studies,
including research on new media, tend to omit the key
participant in news processing, namely the journalist (Gynnild
2006). Consequently, central aspects of journalistic craftsmanship
and identity – values, attitudes and work habits – are still
primarily accessible through practical experience in newsrooms.
The theory of creative cycling suggests the importance of mind
over machine and advocates a re-humanization of news
production studies.

Fourth reframing: By exploring journalists’ strategies to
speed up their productive processing, the theory of creative
cycling turns several aspects of news production upside-down.
First of all, journalists’ creative skills have been taken for
granted both by researchers and laymen. Second, journalist
motivation for work, no matter the circumstances, has been taken
for granted. Third, the effects of more stationary news work in
the digital age have so far been paid little attention by
researchers, in spite of increasing rates of sick leave particularly
among young reporters. Moreover, derogatory myths abound and
particularly those concerning age and competence conspire to
undermine journalists. The gender myth for example has now
been replaced by the age myth. The theory of creative cycling
therefore calls for a reframing of established ‘truths’ about news
professionals to encourage a more constructive and positive
working environment.

Fifth bridging: The theory suggests a bridging of research
and practice. A dilemma with many news production studies is
that they are aimed primarily towards an academic audience.
Much news production research is hence experienced to be of
little relevancy and interest for news professionals as
practitioners. Consequently, much research is excluded from
influencing the news field and researchers are reduced to the role
of observer. The theory of creative cycling offers new
understanding both to practitioners and researchers where its fit,
relevance and workability can only be fully tested by
practitioners. A further aspect of bridging, raised by the theory, is
the need for reconnecting news professionals and the audience.


To sum up, creative cycling theory works counter to
established assumptions about productive efficiency in digitalized
newsrooms. It suggests a redefining of framings that stimulate
innovative news shaping. The theory highlights that to ensure
optimal journalistic contribution, breaks and shifts are just as
important as periods of intensive work. Independent of
technological or other structural changes, recognition, trust and
individual action space are crucial for the outcome of creative
cycling processes. Awareness of personal needs and wishes
stimulates and supports innovative exploration. As shapers of
new knowledge in the multimedia age, news reporters are in the
profession not only to make a living but because they want to
contribute to society. Finally, I would like to point out that
raising the theory of creative cycling to a formal level (Glaser
1978, 2006), might contribute with more general insights into the
very multifaceted, fragile and yet robust processes of shaping new
knowledge in society.


1. For more about creative processes, see for instance Robert
Sternberg (ed.) 2000, Michael Michalko 2001, and Donald
MacKinnon 1978.
2. Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory (1984) is probably the
most widespread approach to the interdependent relationship
between human actions and social structures. According to
Giddens’ theory, social structures are rules and resources that are
produced and reproduced by human actors. Other holistic
perspectives on how individual actions relate to outer framings
are found in gestalt theory, for instance Hanne Hostrup (1999).
3. Tuchman 1978. Her discussion of news as a frame through
The Grounded Theory Review (2007), vol.6, no.2
which reality is approached was inspired by Erving Goffman’s
frame analyses, see Goffman 1974.
4. A concept generated by Barney Glaser.
5. The concept real encounter was introduced by Rollo May
(1975), who emphasized that creative discovery is inspired and
stimulated by real encounters.


Astrid Gynnild, Ph.D.
Bergen Deaconal University College
Krohnengsgt. 10, N-5031 Bergen
Phone: + 4755560495/+4747028524


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